Tilton veteran, 90, gets Fenway first pitch honor
TILTON — George Nichols is styling around the New Hampshire Veterans Home these days, showing off his Red Sox jacket, hat and a big smile that was on display at Fenway Park in Boston on Saturday night as he threw out the game’s first pitch.
“That was really, really nice,” said Nichols, 90, who was born and raised a Red Sox fan before moving to Contoocook about 20 years ago. “I’ve seen the field so many times but I couldn’t believe I was on it.”Wheelchair bound and a cancer survivor, he’s been at the New Hampshire Veterans Home for the past three years, watching Red Sox games with his fellow residents each night of the season.
But Nichols has also been fighting another battle, which inadvertently landed him the invitation from Red Sox owner John Henry last week.
A retired U.S. Army sergeant, he served in Anzio, Italy, during World War II as a medic on the front lines for three years starting in 1942. In his last year in Italy, he was shot in the knee but kept working, pulling men to safer ground while injured, he said.
He deserves the Purple Heart medal, he said, but the Army company clerk “didn’t put me down for it, so there’s no record of my injury,” he said.
He has applied for the medal several times, but was denied each time because the government said he needed three witnesses to his injury, he said.
“And I haven’t got three witnesses, most of them are gone and I don’t know where the others are,” he said.
His wish for a Purple Heart drew media coverage last week. The Associated Press picked up the story, and on Wednesday Henry read the story online and had his staff call the veterans home.
Saturday was New Hampshire Day at Fenway Park, and Henry wanted Nichols to throw out the first pitch.
Nichols made the trip and enjoyed the experience, he said.
He was parked near the pitcher’s mound Saturday night, where he threw a low strike to Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes. Gomes then walked up and high-fived Nichols.
“I loved that,” he said. “It really made me feel honored. Though I don’t know what’s wrong with those Red Sox right now.”
He plans to continue his battle for a Purple Heart.
“I really think I deserve it, I got hit just like a lot of other guys got hit,” he said. “I’ll keep trying, I’m not giving up.”